The Forgotten American Children Of Vietnam
America's Disgrace---American Children Left Behind
The Vietnam war dragged on for ten long years. During that time, American soldiers formed relatonships with Vietnamese women and, from those relationships, children were born.
Then the unthinkable happened. Suddenly, the war was over, the Americans were hastily leaving, and North and South Vietnam were being reunited.
But what about the children of the Americans who were being left behind---the Amerasians? As part of the American evacuation, Operation Babylift was planned to airlift 2000 orphans (a mere drop in the bucket) to America. The first planeload crashed, killing 144 people, most of them orphans. But the airlift went on for three more weeks without further tragedy.
However, thousands of half Vietnamese half-American children were left behind. With their fathers ordered back home, who was left to protect their little children? The Vietnamese mothers, after their American protectors left, were almost all living in dire poverty. These women were forced to do what women have had to resort to through the millenia: find a husband to support them. These new husbands usually didn't want their new wives' funny-looking children. The children, with their round eyes and other markers of foreign parentage, were often abandoned at the doors of orphanages, or simply thrown out into the streets to fend for themselves.
The Amerasian children grew up shunned by Vietnamese society. They were made fun of by other children, called "half-breed dogs" and other taunting names. They were often physically assaulted. Living on the streets as beggars, they weren't able to attend school, and so faced the future as illiterate and unskilled adults.
But in 1985, an American photographer on assignment in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) took a picture of a crippled Amerasian street boy which touched the hearts of all who saw it when it was published in newspapers around the United States. That picture led to the Amerasian Homecoming Act which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan in 1987.
Suddenly, all the formerly despised street children became pearls beyond price to the Vietnamese people. Because these children (who were now mostly in their twenties) were allowed to bring their relatives with them on their journeys to America, their former tormentors saw them as free tickets to the land where the streets were supposedly lined with gold. All at once the bewildered children found presents, money, and (best of all to the love-starved children) attention raining down upon them. Many succumbed to the blandishments and brought strangers with them to their new homeland, where they all came as immigrants, not as mere refugees. However, once in America, most of the new relatives deserted the kids. The long-suffering children once more found themselves on their own.
Many of the Amerasian children did very well. Those who had been kept by loving birth families and who had learned to speak English took off like rockets, got themselves educations and good jobs. But many had a tougher row to hoe. Children who had grown up on the streets had trouble adjusting to structured environments. Street children who were placed in American foster homes had great difficulty in going to bed at a certain time, going to school at certain times and even having meals at certain times. There were many mental problems among the new immigrants, including many suicides. Growing up alone, unwanted and abused, it's no wonder these young adults had trouble surviving in a strange land.
Eventually, the successful newcomers banded together and formed societies, such as the Amerasian Fellowship Association which now help their less unfortunate compatriots and foster pride in their common origin. These societies hold sit-down dinners all around the country several times a year where Amerasians can meet and talk story with each other.
The treatment of the half-American children left behind in Vietnam at the end of that pointless and wasteful war is a shameful blot on the history of the United States. In 1970, the U. S. Defense Department put out a statement, "The care and welfare of these unfortunate children...has never been and is not now considered an area of government responsibility".
Contrast this cold-hearted and unfeeling statement with the treatment that France accorded its half-French children when France was defeated at Dien Bien Phu in 1954 after a century of colonial rule of Vietnam. France immediately sent all of its children of mixed parentage back to France with the retreating French troops. And, unlike the Americans who only gave its children immigrant status, France gave all their children French citizenship in their new country. Those little children weren't simply left defenseless and alone on the chaotic streets of a war-torn country to take care of themselves as the American children were. Disgrace, indeed!